Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

proved by some of their confessions previous to execution, have been their own dupes, and have entertained no doubt whatsoever of the reality of their intercourse with the devil, is surprising enough to deserve explanation. A single crucial instance will bring us upon the trail of the solution.

A little maid, twelve years of age, used to fall into fits of sleep; and afterwards she told her parents and the judge how an old woman and her daughter, riding on a broomstick, had come and taken her out with them. The daughter sat foremost, the old woman behind, the little maid between. They went away through the roof of the house, over the adjoining houses and the towngate, to a village some way off. Upon arriving there, the party went down the chimney of a cottage into a room, where sat a black man and twelve women. They eat and drank. The black man filled their glasses from a can, and gave each of the women a handful of gold. She herself had received none, but she had eaten and drunk with them.

See how much this example displays. I mean not that the superstition was imbibed in childhood, though that would do much to establish the belief in it, but that it had power to disturb the mind sufficiently to produce trance-sleep: for such were evidently the fits of sleep this child described; and trance-sleep, with its special character of visions, of dreams vivid, coherent, continuous, realising the ideas which had driven the mind into trance. Elder persons, it is to be presumed, were occasionally similarly wrought upon. And the witches seemed to have known and availed themselves of the confidence in their art that could be thus promoted; and by witchbroths, of which narcotics formed an ingredient, they would induce in themselves and in their pupils a heavy stupor, which so far resembles trance that vivid and connected dreams occur in it. Here was the seeming reality necessary for absolute belief. It lay in not understood trance-phenomena. Other evidence from the same source came in to support the first. Some of the witch-pupils in their trances would show a strange knowledge; some of the victims, on whose fears or persons they had wrought, would become possessed-proving their art to be not less real than they believed thus the elementary part to be of their personal communication with the fiend. These remarks explain collaterally why witches and sorceresses were more numerous than sorcerers and magicians. Insufficient occupation and other causes helped probably to dispose women to seek a resource in the intense excitement of this crime; but besides, trance stood at their service, which men seldomer experience.

I will conclude with two pictures. One, the confession-interesting, however, from its relation to the child's early vision of vulgar and ordinary witches; the other, the substance of the confession of a lady-witch, which, in itself, tells the whole curious tale of this disease.

At Mora, in Sweden, in 1669, of many who were put to the torture and executed, seventy-two women agreed in the following avowal: That they were in the habit of meeting at a place called Blocula. That on their calling out “ Come forth,” the Devil used to appear to them in a grey coat, red breeches, grey stockings with a red beard, and a peaked hat with parti-coloured feathers on his head. He then enforced upon them, not without blows, that they must bring him, at nights, their own and other people's children, stolen for the purpose. They travel through the air to Blocula either on beasts, or on spits, or broomsticks. When they have many children with them, they rig on an additional spar to lengthen the back of the goat or their broomstick, that the children

may have room to sit. At Blocula they sign their name in blood, and are baptised. The Devil is a humorous pleasant gentleman; but his table is coarse enough, which makes the children often sick on their way home, the product being the so-called witch-butter found in the fields. When the Devil is larky, he solicits the witches to dance round him on their brooms, which he suddenly pulls from under them, and uses to beat them with, till they are black and blue. He laughs at this joke till his sides shake again. Sometimes he is in a more gracious mood, and plays to them lovely airs upon the harp; and occasionally sons and daughters are born to the Devil, which take up their residence at Blocula.

The following is the history of the lady-witch. She was, at the time of her death, seventy years of age, and had been many years sub-prioress of the convent of Unterzell, near Würtzburg.

Maria Renata took the veil at nineteen years of age, against her inclination, having previously been initiated in the mysteries of witchcraft, which she continued to practise for fifty years, under the cloak of punctual attendance to discipline and pretended piety. She was long in the station of sub-prioress, and would, for her capacity, have been promoted to the rank of prioress, had she not betrayed a certain discontent with the ecclesiastical life, a certain contrariety to her superiors, something half expressed only of inward dissatisfaction. Renata had not ventured to let any one about the convent into her confidence, and she remained free from suspicion, notwithstanding that, from time to time, some of the nuns, either from the herbs she mixed with their food, or through sympathy, had strange seizures, of which some died. Renata became at length extravagant and unguarded in her witch-propensities, partly from long security, partly from desire of stronger excitement-made noises in the dormitory, and uttered shrieks in the garden; went at nights into the cells of the nuns to pinch and torment them, to assist her in which she kept a considerable supply of cats. The removal of the keys of the cells counteracted this annoyance; but a still more efficient means was a determined blow, on the part of a nun, struck at the aggressor with the penitential scourge one night, on the morning following which Renata was observed to have a black eye and cut face. This event awakened suspicion against Renata. Then one of the nuns, who was much esteemed, declared, believing herself upon her deathbed, that, “ as she shortly expected to stand before her Maker, Renata was uncanny; that she had often at nights been visibly tormented by her, and that she warned her to desist from this course.” General alarm arose, and apprehension of Renata's arts; and one of the nuns, who previously had had fits, now became possessed, and, in the paroxysms, told the wildest tales against Renata. It is only wonderful how the subprioress contrived to keep her ground many years against these suspicions and incriminations. She adroitly put aside the insinuations of the nun as imaginary, or of calumnious intention, and treated witchcraft and possession of the Devil as things which enlightened people no longer believed in. As, however, five more of the nuns, either taking the infection from the first, or influenced by the arts of Renata, became possessed of devils, and unanimously attacked Renata, the superiors could no longer avoid making a serious investigation of the charges. Renata was confined to a cell alone, whereupon the six devils screeched in chorus at being deprived of their friend. She had begged to be allowed to take her papers with her; but this being refused, and thinking herself detected, she at once avowed to her confessor and the superiors that she was a witch, had learned witchcraft out of the convent, and had bewitched the six nuns. They determined to keep the matter secret, and to attempt the conversion of Renata. And, as the nuns still continued possessed, they despatched her to a remote convent. Here, under a show of outward piety, she still went on with her attempts to realise witchcraft, and the nuns remained possessed. It was decided at length to give Renata over to the civil power. She was accordingly condemned to be burned alive; but in mitigation of punishment, her head was first struck off. Four of the possessed nuns gradually recovered, with clerical assistance—the other two remained deranged. Renata was executed on the 21st January 1749.

Renata stated, in her voluntary confession, that she had often, at night, been carried bodily to witch-sabbaths, in one of which she was first presented to the Prince of Darkness, when she abjured God and the Virgin at the same time. Her name, with the alteration of Maria into Emma, was written in a black book, and she herself was stamped on the back as the Devil's property; in return for which she received the promise of seventy years of life, and of all she might wish for. She stated that she had often at night gone into the cellar of the chateau and drank the best wine; in the shape of a sow had walked on the convent walls; on the bridge had milked the cows as they passed over; and several times had mingled with the actors in the theatre in London.

« AnteriorContinuar »